A Travellerspoint blog

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Before we Leave

Background info on Costa Rica

rain 10 °C

Brief History
In pre-Columbian times the indigenous people were part of the international Intermediate Area located between the Mesoamerican and Andean cultural regions. The northwest of the country, the Nicoya Peninsula, was the southernmost point of Nahuatl cultural influence when the Spanish conquistadores came in the sixteenth century.
When Columbus first landed in Costa Rica in 1502, the region was inhabited by various indigenous groups, which were all but wiped out once European settlement began. Spain named the colony "Rich Coast", rather ironically: Costa Rica was barren in terms of gold and valuable minerals. Instead, the Spanish turned to agriculture and imported African slaves to work the land.
Along with the other Spanish colonies in Central America, Costa Rica declared itself independent from Spain in 1821. In 1824 the capital was moved to San José, but violence briefly ensued through an intense rivalry with Cartago. Although the newly independent provinces formed a Federation, border disputes broke out among them, adding to the region's turbulent history and conditions. After a brief time under Mexican rule, Costa Rica joined the Federal Republic of Central America - an unhappy union, as Costa Rica clashed with other states in the FRCA. In 1838, Costa Rica became a sovereign nation, with its capital in San Jose.
Since independence, Costa Rica has been a relatively peaceful country, especially in comparison with other Central American nations. Agriculture remains a key industry, though eco-tourism and technology are now also significant sectors of the economy.
Costa Rica is located on the Central American isthmus, lying between latitudes 8° and 12°N, and longitudes 82° and 86°W. Costa Rica comprises 51,100 square kilometresplus 589 square kilometres of territorial waters. The country has a mountainous spine stretching through the centre of the country. It boasts 1,290 kilometres of coastline, most of which is on the Pacific Ocean (a little over 200 kilometres is on the Caribbean Sea). The country borders Panama in the southeast and Nicaragua in the northwest, sharing borders over 639 and 309 kilometres respectively.
Costa Rica's popularity as an eco-tourism destination is underscored by the fact that over a quarter of the nation's territory is protected. Costa Rica has 26 national parks and over 160 other protected areas. The highest point in the country is Cerro Chirripó, at 3,819 metres, while the highest volcano in the country is the Irazú Volcano (3,431 metres above sea level). Lake Arenal is the largest lake in Costa Rica, towered by the Arenal Volcano. Several islands are located of the coastline, the furthest being Cocos Island which located nearly 500 kilometres to the south! Calero Island is the largest island of the country (151.6 square kilometres). Over 25% of Costa Rica's national territory is protected by SINAC (the National System of Conservation Areas), which oversees all of the country's protected areas. Costa Rica also possesses the greatest density of species in the world.
Costa Rica is as well known for its beautiful natural landscape and bustling biodiversity as it is for its wonderful, happy residents. Here are 16 interesting facts about Costa Rica that help make the country a truly singular place.
1. Over a quarter of the land is dedicated to conservation.
Tourists and locals alike are drawn to Costa Rica’s natural beauty—and are committed to preserving it. With 20 national parks, 8 biological reserves, animal refuges, and protected areas, 26 percent of Costa Rica’s land is protected.
2. Tourism is the country’s leading foreign exchange earner.
All that natural beauty and the diverse landscape with two oceans and access to countless adventure activities have made Costa Rica a great vacation destination. In 1995, tourism overtook bananas to become Costa Rica’s leading foreign exchange earner. Tourism reached an all-time high for Costa Rica in 2013 with 2.4 million visitors.
3. Costa Rica is home to four UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has designated four locations in Costa Rica as World Heritage Sites for their universal cultural and natural value. They are: La Amistad National Park, Cocos Island National Park, Area de Conservación Guanacaste, and the Precolumbian Chiefdom Settlements with Stone Spheres of the Diquís.
4. Costa Rica is one of 23 countries in the world that doesn’t have a standing army.
Costa Rica dissolved its national army in 1948, and the abolition of the military was written into the national constitution in 1949. Twenty-one countries, including the United States, signed the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance in 1947, pledging to provide military support to Costa Rica (and any other signee) should they need it. In 1980, the United Nations University for Peace was created and housed in Costa Rica.
5. It has one of the highest life expectancies in the world.
According to the World Bank, Costa Rica's life expectancy at birth is 80 years. This figure is higher than that of the United States (which is 79). The Nicoya region of Costa Rica is also one of five Blue Zones—“longevity hotspots” populated by the longest-living people in the world—on the globe. All that natural beauty and happiness must be good for you!
6. There are over 200 volcanic formations in Costa Rica.
Of these, approximately 112 have shown some type of activity—60 are considered dormant, which means they don't currently show signs of activity, but could possibly become active again. Arenal is the most active volcano in Central America, while Poás is the second widest volcanic crater in the world, and Irazú is Costa Rica’s tallest volcano.
7. Costa Rica is slightly smaller than Lake Michigan.
At 19,730 square miles, Costa Rica occupies slightly less territory than Lake Michigan (which measures 22,394 square miles). The country contains 801 miles (1,290 km) of coastline.
8. Costa Rica is home to more than 5 percent of the world’s biodiversity.
Costa Rica may not be a large country, but it packs a lot of life into its borders. While Costa Rica only occupies .03 percent of the world's surface, it boasts the globe's highest biodiversity density. The country is home to more than 500,000 species! And, with nearly 3 percent of the world’s biodiversity contained in its borders, Corcovado National Park has been deemed “the most biologically intense place on the planet.”
9. There are tons of butterflies in Costa Rica.
Seriously—there are so many butterflies. Costa Rica contains approximately 90 percent of the butterfly species found in Central America, 66 percent of all neo-tropical butterflies, and about 18 percent of all butterfly species in the world.
10. There are also over 50 species of hummingbirds.
Of the 338 known species of hummingbirds, about 50 live in Costa Rica. The smallest Costa Rican hummingbird (the male scintillant hummingbird) weighs only two grams. The largest (the violet sabrewing) weighs an average of 11.5 grams.
11. Costa Rica residents are called Ticos and Ticas.
Costa Ricans colloquially refer to themselves as Ticos (male) and Ticas (female). This stems from their practice of adding the diminutive suffix "tico" to the end of most words. For example, un poco means "a little" in standard Spanish. The typical diminutive is un poquito (a little bit), but Costa Ricans would instead say un poquitico.
12. Ticos and ticas in love use a sweet term of endearment.
Costa Ricans use the term media naranja to refer to their soul mate or other half. It literally translates to "half an orange."
13. Most Costa Rican radio stations play the country's national anthem at 7:00 each morning.
The national anthem, unofficially called "Noble patria, tu hermosa bandera" ("Noble homeland, your beautiful flag") was first played in 1852 to welcome United States and United Kingdom diplomatic representatives. The song, with music by Manuel Maria Gutierrez and lyrics written by Jose Maria Zeledon in 1903, was officially named Costa Rica's National Anthem in 1949.
14. Costa Rica didn't use street signs until 2012.
While a GPS will display street names in Costa Rica, locals use landmarks (past and present) to give directions. To get to the National Theater in San Jose, for example, you would take a "left-hand turn 100 (meters) south of the People's Bank." While San Jose residents readily used street names and numbers until the early 20th century, the practice fell off following a population boom in the 1950s and '60s.
In 2012, the city undertook a $1 million project to reintroduce street signs and a more regulated postal system to San Jose.
15. Costa Ricans live by pura vida.
Costa Ricans will often greet one another and bid farewell by saying "pura vida." But pura vida, which translates to "pure life," is more than a turn of phrase to Costa Ricans—it's a state of mind. Costa Ricans take every opportunity to live life to the fullest.
16. Costa Rica ranks number one in the Happy Planet Index.
With pura vida as their philosophy, it comes as no surprise that Costa Ricans are considered to be some of the happiest people on Earth. The Happy Planet Index uses three criteria—life expectancy, experienced well-being, and Ecological Footprint—to determine the overall happiness levels of 151 countries across the globe. With a score of 64.0, Costa Rica tops this list. (The United States, for comparison, has an HPI of 37.3.)

Posted by Colenso 09:17 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

The Long Way to San José

What are we doing in Atlanta?

semi-overcast 24 °C

Day 1 & 2 - February 3RD & 4TH, 2015

We are running the first two days together because that’s they way they happened. We booked on points months ago and were scheduled Vic-Seattle-SF-LA-San José. Our flight was late leaving Seattle so we missed our connection out of SF to LA and to San José. Alaska gave us only an hour between connecting flights in SF and we should have requested a better schedule. We were rerouted from SF to Atlanta on a night flight and then into San José. Neither of us got much sleep but we did get to see a couple of good movies. Gail’s bag arrived in San José before we did while Fred’s came off our flight. We were just happy but sleep deprived to finally be in San José.

Hotel Don Carlos http://www.doncarloshotel.com/ is an older hacienda turned into a boutique hotel a long time ago and is located in the heart of San José within walking distance of Jade Museum, National Center of Art and Culture, and Parque Nacional. Also nearby are Gold Museum and National Theater. Our room is funky and while old, very comfortable.

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San José architectural style is art Spanish and part Moorish with many streets in the older neighbourhoods still lined with 1-2 story made of wood or even adobe with ornamental grillwork. Next to it could be a modern sky scrapper or large hotel. San José is lacking in the grand colonial structures of Havana or Mexico City but has a number of smaller structures from the same era.

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After checking in and showers we walked over to the Plaza of Cultura on the Avenida Central which was once a main thoroughfare now turned into a pedestrian mall. We watched young kids playing with dizzying clouds of pigeons in the square and getting wonderful face paintings. We will probably have an early night as its been a very long two days.

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Posted by Colenso 16:20 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

Walking around San José

What a difference 12 hours of sleep can make

semi-overcast 26 °C

Day 3 Feb 5, 2015

What a difference 12 hours of sleep can make! Rested and fuelled by a buffet breakfast we were ready to start our day. Guide and maps in hand we headed out. We took a different route than yesterday and were surprised by the different impression we got of the city. Yesterday the skies were threatening and the town seemed somewhat shabby. Today the skies were bright blue and we wandered through lush parks and past ornate colonial buildings. Our destination was the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica.

We’d read the reviews on Trip Advisor but decided to go to the museum anyway as it was close to our hotel and only $10. Turned out to be a nice little museum that gave us a good overview of the human and natural history of Costa Rica. It’s in a decommissioned citadel, love this part…after a coup by the Liberation Army that over threw the military govt’ in 1948 they abolished themselves and turned their fort into a museum. It also incorporates the commanders Victorian home. But…the first part of the museum was a butterfly garden where the beautiful creatures tortured Fred by taking off just as he was set to click.

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The museum had a large collection stone spheres that were made by the indigenous people 300-1500ad. They range in size from a few cms up to 2.5 mtrs in diameter and weighted up to 24 ton.

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San José has several pedestrian malls. The main one is 7 blocks long, busy, and lined with stores and restaurants. San Joseans must like their shoes as there’s an abundance of nice shoes stores. Prices for most things are about the same, if not more expensive than home. Towards the end of the mall is the Mercardo Central, a maze of small shops and restaurants selling everything from chickens flowers, craft supplies and tourist stuff. We stopped for lunch where despite the English translations on the menu and Fred’s limited Spanish, Gail didn’t get what she was expecting. That’s make-your-own beef vegetable soup with a large plate of various veggies and a big chunk of boiled cow that one simply added to a bowl of soup.

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Another pedestrian mall took us back towards home. This one seemed was lower end. Lady’s laid out piles of soxs (no doubt to go with those shoes) on blankets on the sidewalk ready to scoop them up when notice of policia in area came thought. There are a lot of police about, mostly very young and chatting with each other although a few are on motorcycles and others in cars.

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The clouds have rolled in again. Think this might be the weather pattern.

Posted by Colenso 15:17 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Jardín Botánico Lankester

By the book & public transportation

rain 20 °C

Day 4 Feb 6, 2015

Gail’s brother and sister-in-law gave her a book a few years back called “A Thousand Gardens to See Before You Die.” A wee challenge but Gail’s working on it, Fred in tow. Before we left she consulted the book and found that 24 Km. from San Jose was the Jardín Botánico Lankester (Lankester Botanical Garden).

We decided to try public transportation rather than pay the $124 for the tour, atho the tour also took their group to a volcano plus lunch as part of the deal. This entailed us taking the bus 24kms up over the valley ridge and down the road to Cartago and then a cab to the garden. Fortunately the locals were very helpful with info and we made our way to the garden for $8.

Lankester Garden is a center for research for the University of Costa Rica. On it`s 27 acres it has over 3000 species of plants including orchids and epiphytes and is an important botanical centre in the Americas. It is not a display garden but more like a walk in the jungle punctuated with exotic flowers and plants. There had been a heavy mist all morning and the plants looked especially shiny and lush.

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After our stroll through the garden we headed back to Cartago where we visited the Basillica de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles with a soaring wooden interior and beautiful stained glass windows. There was a steady stream of followers moving on their knees on the long path to the alter. We also visited Las Ruinas, a cathedral that had been toppled many times by earthquakes until the final time in 1910. The interior has now been made into a garden.

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We took the bus for a “scenic” trip back to San Jose as we wound our way through a variety of neighborhoods. Definitely need ear protection if you spend much time on the bus. The driver kept his working change in an unusual way. Back walking to our hotel we watched a group of construction guys on long ropes repelling down from a very tall wall as they worked on it, very impressive.

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Posted by Colenso 16:15 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Last Day in San José

Wandering the Avenidas and Calles

semi-overcast 28 °C

Day 5 Feb 7, 2015

We had both read warnings about crime in San José including pickpockets, robberies, assaults, etc, all reported to be on the increase. We even know people who have been victims in the past while in Costa Rica on holiday. In San José there is a noticeable amount of razor wire strung in small circles around the tops of metal or concrete fencing. Our hotel has a person standing out from and other small hotels in the area have bells or locks. Saying all of this, neither one of us has seen any incidences or had a sense that our personal safety has been a possible concern. In the area we are staying, there are a lot of police walking, riding or standing around in groups. We are vigilant and do take precautions to avoid incidents. So far all is well. Fingers crossed it will continue.

Most attractions in San José are either museums or getting out of town. Today we didn’t feel like either so we headed out to see what we could find with emphasis on a bank machine and contact lens cleaner. We found an ATM at the Scotia Band that gave you a choice of working in English or Spanish plus receiving either Colons or US $ (gotta love those Canadian Banks). We then headed over to find what was advertised as a national artists market but was in fact a tourist market with a Costa Rican bent. Course, we were tourists so we bought a few things.

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From there we continued on occasionally trying to mime ‘hard contact lens cleaning solution’ to clerks and were finally successful finding a brand made in Mexico. We carried on looking for the John Lennon statue we read about in our guidebook. He’s either in bad favour and was removed from the plaza or in good favour and stolen. Over to check out a few other sites…the Teatro National (national theatre) with the most beautiful coleus display we’d ever seen and some very neat braided fig trees. San Jose has amazing bakeries. Their pastries are delicious and then there’s the cakes, mind you, a menacing dragon cake can set you back 150,000 colons…about $300.

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We also walked over to El Museo de Arte y Diseño Contemporáneo (Museum of Contemporary Art and Design) and strolled thru the gallery. The museum is in a complex of national offices of culture and theatre converted from an old distillery compound. Latin American’s mix the very modern and old better together well.

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It was Saturday afternoon and the pedestrian mall was getting very busy. More ladies with sox for sale, men selling DVD’s, lottery tickets and other assorted treasures. Back to the hotel in the afternoon. Tonight we meet up with our group.

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Posted by Colenso 15:12 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

Tortuguero

Moving faster than a sloth

semi-overcast 32 °C

Day 6 Feb 8, 2015

Wow! Beyond my expectations. Never thought we’d see a sloth up close in the wild. Saw four, no five (one had a baby!) along the side of the road. Two three toed and 3 two toed. The mom with the baby we could have touched but we didn’t and she didn’t even acknowledge us. There’s more but back to the beginning…

Last night we meet the members (12) of our Intrepid Group. Mostly from the UK including Scotland plus one younger couple from California. We are probably the oldest then next is the couple from Scotland (love their accent) and the rest of the group in there thirties. Our tour leader/guide is Jamie who is a native Costa Rican and very knowledgeable about the human history, geology and natural history of his country.

After breakfast at the hotel we piled into our van and headed out over the valley rim and down towards the northern Caribbean Coast specifically Parque Nacional Tortuguero which covers an area of 77,032 acres (31,174 ha). It is bounded with an elevation range of 0–230 metres (0–755 ft), of a sea coastal region to low hilly topography. The park has over 20 miles of coastline, which provides sea turtles a protected place to lay their eggs.

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It was on the road to the park that we encountered the sloths sleeping in nearby trees. Apparently that’s what they do 75% of the time. Sloths are arboreal (tree-dwelling) residents of the jungles of Central and South America. Much of their time is spent using their energy to digest the leaves they eat rather than moving around. They’re not lazy, just spend a lot of time digesting. Jamie informed us that its very unusual too see so many Sloths in one short trip.

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We also saw these amazing bird’s nests that hung like ornaments on the kapok trees.

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The road got rougher, eventually being dirt, when we neared the river where the adventure continued with a boat ride. Within 2 minutes we came across a 6 ft alligator resting on the bank. We saw 3 kinds of egrets and then some very tiny, cute bats.

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After about 1.5 hours we reached our ‘resort’ that is ‘rustic’ but fine. It’s at the end of a small town that’s main ‘street’ is a raised concrete sidewalk lined with small stores and restaurants. All the buildings are on stilts over the mud. It’s a higgledy-piggledy place comprising a warn of narrow sandy trails lined by rickety wooden houses. However we had a great dinner right on the water at a little restaurant. There is no real dry season on this part of the coast, it just rains less.

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Posted by Colenso 20:35 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (2)

A Canoe Ride and a Hike

Costa Rica at its Best

sunny 31 °C

Day 7 Feb 9, 2015

The roosters started around 2:30 a.m. Concern about waking up in time for our 5:30 a.m. canoe trip was alleviated, somewhat. Under the stars we got in Captain Bill’s canoe for 16 and headed out thru the maze of small islands close to Tortuguero. Bill had come to Costa Rica from Nicaragua in the 60’s as a jaguar hunter. Now he and his son did wildlife tours. There are a number of eco lodges in the area and they all start their boat tours early however the difference was that we were in a long narrow canoe without a motor so quietly manovered along the wall of jungle on the shore line.

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As the sky gradually lightened a howler monkey, high in the trees, was pointed out. We carried on and somehow our guides spotted Jesus Christ lizards (they walk on water), green herons, blue herons, toucans, and a variety of other birds. Their ability to see the critters was amazing. Even when they pointed them out with a laser pointer we had difficulty seeing them. As the morning warmed up (it was now 7 a.m.) the caiman came out to lie in the sun. According to Bill they were asleep and didn’t move when we got within touching distance of them. We let them snooze.

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We returned to the village for a our lunch. The afternoon’s activities was a walk through Torouga National Park. First we had to get our gumboots. Turned out not to be that muddy but our $1 a pair supported a local.

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Didn’t take long before we came across a very big spider and a little bit further some spider and howler monkeys. Amazing how quickly howler monkeys seem common place. Our guide was very good at detecting birds and snakes.

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Our walk took us through the jungle and out to the beach. Beautiful beach but undertows, sharks, and crocodiles make swimming a poor choice. We managed to lose one of our members but he eventually turned up on his own back at our accommodation despite the efforts of our guide and the park rangers to find him.

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Posted by Colenso 19:37 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

On the Way to Sarapiguil

Roosters Again!

sunny 34 °C

Day 8 Feb 10,2015

Roosters! Totally annoying creatures. Theoretically we were sleeping in until 6:45 a.m. but once the roosters woke us up we could hear the surprising amount of marine traffic in the lagoon. They were heading off to pick up tourists that were off on their sunrise tours We were up by 6:30 and on the water in a small boat by 8:00am heading away from Tortuguero along Laguna del Tortuguero which extends north 6 kms to the open ocean where the tannin-stained brackish water pours into the Caribbean. We turned off the laguna well before the ocean and up Rio Cano Chiquero where we met, heading in the other direction, Cayucos (dug out canoes), pangas (flat-bottom boats with outboards) and even a police boat all heading down river. The ride up the river was pretty, with occasional stops to see monkeys and birds. Our skipper knew his stuff as there were many shallow spots on the river that one needed to avoid.

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We climbed on a different small bus with just enough seats for all of us and our gear and drove for a couple of hours away from the ocean and back into the hilly area. This area is still tropical rain forest but less than the 100% humidity we felt down by the ocean.

We are just outside of Puerto Viejo de Sarapiguil, the heart of Costa Rica’s banana/pineapple growing region. Next to us is Braulio Carrillo National park and one of richest areas in the country for bird watching. We are staying in a funky very little eco resort Andrea Cristina B&B with rustic cabins and surrounded by lush vegetation. We met the owner Alex Martinez who worked for 10 years outside of Port Hardy on Vancouver Island but returned to his native Costa Rica. Tomorrow we divide up doing various activities including rafting, bird watching and visiting a chocolate operation.

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Posted by Colenso 15:50 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

White Water & Toucans

Fruit Loops

sunny 32 °C

Day 9 Feb 11,2015

Sleep seems to be an ‘optional activity’ on this tour. No roosters but traffic which is surprisingly loud since we’re in cabins in a jungle setting. So awake at 5 a.m., up at 6:30 a.m. for a simple but deliciosu breakfast of homemade bread, eggs, and fresh fruit for both us and the resident birds.

Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui is a small riverside community located in the northeastern corner of Costa Rica, less than 20 miles south of the Nicaraguan border. The town lies at the base of the Cordillera Central Mountain Range and is quickly becoming a popular eco-tourism destination for both wildlife enthusiasts and thrill-seekers including white water kayakers and rafters on the near by rivers.

4 of us from the group went rafting with an additional tourista joining us and 4 guides. It was a lot of fun flying thru rough rapids, getting wet head to foot, bumping and twisting down the river. We also got to jump off an cliff and float for a while during our break. The highlight of the trip for Fred was when he got to use the white water kayak. He admits he’s not as good as he thought saw some of the river upside down.

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Gail opted for the less adventurus choice going to La Selva, a 3900 acre ecological reseach statioin that gets over 13 feet of rain a year! Fortunately it wasn’t raining ( the guide said they have a rainy season and a less rainy season) so we went for a walk and saw iguanas, sloths (who knew there were so many sloths), howler monkeys (ditto), a variety of birds, and peccary (think pot bellied pig crossed with tapir).

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The afternoon’s word was ‘Toucans”. Having been skunked on 2 previous vacations, Toucans were a goal of this trip. The owner of our accommodations is an avid birder He loaded us in the van and off we went off the paved road and up into the foothills where he has an area where he rehabilitates wildlife. Alex was focused on birds and could pick a small bird out of a wall of vegetation. First sighting was Toucans (not a popular bird amongst birders as they eat other birds). We were delighted but he figured we wanted to see the Fruit Loops variety so off we went through the jungle with instructions not to touch any vegetation and to watch out for the man-eating ants. Alex, the guide, was one of the more interesting aspects of this hike. After we saw hummers, cocoa plants, non-gmo pineables, bright blue birds, parrots and yes, Fruit loops style toucans, we headed back to our lodgings.

Posted by Colenso 20:15 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Santa Rosa de Poco Sol Homestay

Grand Experience

semi-overcast 33 °C

Day 10, February 12, 2015

Our host, Alex, served us and the birds breakfast with occasionnal disappearances when he heard a bird he needed to look for. We then climbed in the bus and headed off for our next destination, a homestay in Santa Rosa…… Along the way we made a stop at a restaurant by a river where the owner had decided to free his iguanas a few years back but kept feeding them. The local igunanas found out and now there are hundreds of huge iguanas lazing about in the trees in the area.

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When we reached Santa Rosa we turned off on a dirt road and travelled 2.5 kms to our homestay. The group was divided amongst 3 houses in a rural community that is trying to protect the area and is offering homestays as a means of supplementing the farm income. Our home is a 15 acre farm with an extended family and a number of living on it, grows sugar cane, bananas, cattle and a few other assorted plants and animals. A number of the community women had prepared workers lunch for us, although they got us to make tortillas and salad and do the dishes. The food was delicious and plentiful.

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After lunch we went on a tour of the farm which was very interesting. Of course, this was followed by a snack based on the crops they grew on the farm. Also delicious and plentiful. Needing to get a bit of exercise before dinner, we walked up the road a bit until it was getting dark. The air was warm and the smell of citrus was in the air. It was so quiet after being in the towns for the past few days.

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Sandra, our hostess was a very skilled cook and her 9 year old daughter supervised Gail as she tried to help. Sandra didn’t have a stove but used 2 hotplates, a rice cooker, and a crockpot and an outdoor brick over. She produced a sopa negra with avacados, farmer’s cheese, fresh eggs and passion fruit juice, it was delious. Sandra’s husband besides running the farm is the principal at the local grade school, where because it’s a small rural school he also teaches. His father and his sister have houses on the farm, so in many ways it’s a family operation with 13 other people also working. Their main farm income comes from the they raise and sell. They grow all the feed themselves for the cattle. Besides having three children, Sandra gets up at 5:00am to drive the school bus. Dinner conversation was a combination of Spanish, English, and guessing, it was delightful. We consider ourselves fortunate to have had this home stay opportunity as it’s a side of Costa Rica that folks who stay in a tourist resorts never experience.

Posted by Colenso 15:05 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

Hello La Fortuna

Rain in a Tropical Rainforest

rain 25 °C

Day 11, February 13, 2015

Woke up to rain so hard that even the rooster went inside. Unlike a downpour at home that lasts up to 5 minutes this downpour went on for hours. The tin roof on our house resonated the sound. This is apparently unusual for this time of year. How do they ever dry their laundry?

Went for a long walk in the rain down the road under umbrellas. This is very hilly country with rich red soil. Apparently even too steep for cows in many areas.

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We said goodbye to our host family and got back on the bus to go to La Fortuna which is the centre for tourism in the north and where our guide lives. Basically tourist stores interspersed with tour companies. Has a lovely park in the middle of it. Still raining. Hot sales item seems to be cheap rain ponchos. Hmmm…. However, we went out for dinner by ourselves and Fred had a great steak, which was a surprise as one should not order steak in Mexico (unless in an upscale restrung) because they are usually pretty tough. Gail’s fettuccine alfredo was not the best but she liked her wine.

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Posted by Colenso 18:47 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (3)

Suspension Bridges, Waterfalls & Hot Pools

Rain, rain, rain, etc.

rain 25 °C

Day 12, February 14, 2015

Rain. Cloud bursts all night but only showers through most of the morning but that didn’t stop us from getting out and exploring the area. The cover layer slows the rain from getting down to the ground so it was almost a heavy mist. Our guide Jamie lives in La Fortuna and arranged for the group to do three activities at a deep discounted rate thru a friend of his. Our new young female guide took us first to the Hanging Bridges, after a stop to pick up some umbrellas.

This walk took us thru approx 3 kilometers of rainforest and across 15 suspension bridges, some up to 100 meters long and 70 meters high. The rain kept the birds and monkeys undercover but we did see howler monkeys, peccaries (small boars) and a gaggle of coatamundis. In this reserve there are 250 different bird species, a variety of reptiles, frogs and snakes and mammals butterflies, vivid beetles, amazing leaf-cutter ants and artistic spiders. The fact that is was raining with all of the plants a shining green made it all that more special. Like all of our guides, this guide could hear, smell, and see critters.

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Then we went to see a 70 meter waterfall, down a very steep series of staircases which really got the heart thumping on the way back up. Since its been raining for days, these twin waterfalls were at their most spectacular.

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After lunch back in town (love sopa Azteca) we went to one of the many hot springs in the area and alternated from the hot pools to the cooler ones in a garden. As it grew dark, the pools and gardens were lit up. Quite relaxing.

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For dinner, Jamie even tho it was his day off, had invited the group to his house for a BBQ where we got to meet his family and in-laws who took care of the cooking for us. A very enjoyable day.

Posted by Colenso 07:18 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

On to Monteverde

More misty weather

rain 23 °C

Day 13, February 15, 2015

It rained again all day long. We got up and had a late breakfast then checked out of our room at 11:00am and walked around La Fortuna one more time in the drizzel. We got picked up and headed to Arenal lake where took a boat across in the fog and then a small bus ride for a little over an hour up into the hills to Monteverde. On the way we stopped in a little place for coffee and a duck walk in as if he owned the place but the owner didn't bat on eye.

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Monteverde is a small town in Puntarenas in the Cordillera de Tilarán. Roughly a four hour drive from the Central Valley, Monteverde is considered a major ecotourism destination in Costa Rica. The area is host to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and numerous other reserves, which draw considerable numbers of tourists and naturalists. February is suppose to be the driest month but that has not been our experience so far.

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National Geographic has called the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve "the jewel in the crown of cloud forest reserves". Newsweek has declared Monteverde the world's #14 Place to Remember Before it Disappears." By popular vote in Costa Rica, Monteverde was enshrined as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Costa Rica, along with Isla del Coco, Volcán Arenal, Cerro Chirripó, Río Celeste, Tortuguero, and Volcán Poás. The town itself is more full of backpackers, hostels and restaurants that La Fortuna.

Speaking of which we are staying in a hostel which is nothing like the ones Fred use to run back in the early 70s. This one is pretty nice with private rooms, a bar and dinning area plus a kitchen. We went out to eat as a group and this is a happening little town.

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Posted by Colenso 20:06 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Coffee, Sugar & Cocoa

Zipping thru life

rain 16 °C

February 16, 2015

Can’t say today’s activity was on the bucket list but one to check off anyway.

Woke up to brilliant sunshine and rain at the same time. Very strange. There’s a hill right behind town and the clouds come over the hill filling the air with moisture and rapidly displate so although it’s sunny air has a very heavy mist.

The mornings activity was a tour of a family owned coffee, cocoa, and sugar farm that was much better than any we’d ever been on before. Our guide, the fourth generation working on the farm showed us how coffee was transformed from seed to brew in this area. It’s too steep for machinery so much of the work is done by hand. We then went on to learn about cocoa that they’re experimenting with in this area that is not ideal for the plant. Then onto sugar cane from plant to moonshine and caramel.

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The big activity in this area is zip-lining. They have the longest zip-line in Central America. Fred of course, signed up, and Gail, not wanting to be a whimp, followed suit and then had second thoughts. Whimpiness seemed like a common sense approach. Seemed it was too late to back out so off she went.

We were dropped off in a reception area with about 40 other people arriving for various adventure activities. Once we’d signed on the line we were fitted up with helmets and harnesses, doubled checked to make sure all was well and sent off for instruction. Nerves were definitely on ready at this point but the encouragement and attention of the staff to safety was somewhat reassuring.

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They started us out on a couple of short zips. Our attention was focussed on braking at the other end so the fact that we were whizzing through the jungle was lost. When we reached the longer zips there was time to relax (?) and have a look around and it was quite an experience. The last two zips were what they called Superman Zips ie belly down like Superman and they were long. By then the fog had rolled in and people were zipping off into a cloud. It cleared by the time it was our turns and off we went. Pretty intense experience. The last option was the Tarzan Leap…hard to describe.. a cross between repelling and bungee jumping. Gail opted out but Fred went for it. The staff got the person hooked in and then before they knew what happened gave them a push and off they went. Fred’s screams echoed thru out the valley as he bounced about. Can’t say it’s something either of us would do again but an interesting experience for sure.

Posted by Colenso 19:28 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

Monteverde Cloudforest Biological Reserve

Birds, birds and more birds

sunny 25 °C

Feb 17, 2015

Apparently we were to have a very lucky day. Off bright and early for a walk in the Monteverde Cloudforest Biological Reserve.

Monteverde was founded as an agricultural community in 1951 by a group of American Quakers who cleared virgin forests to create pastures for dairy farming. The were however aware of the danger or unrestricted settling/farming would cause to this precious habitat. They established a small privately owned wildlife snctuary that has since grown into the preserve.

All the reserves area within the Zona Protectora Arenal-Monteverde incompass 74,000 acres extending down both side of the Caribbean and Pacific slopes of the Cordillera de Tilaran. This area protects 100+ mammal, 400 bird and 1,200 amphibian/reptile species.

A cloudforest is an area similar to a rainforest but instead on relying on rain for essential moisture, adequate water comes from the semi-permanent clouds (heavy mist) that cover the area. Our guide is an avid birder, remarkable at spotting birds that we can’t see even when he points them out. Barely out of the van and he spots a motmot, a very pretty bird. We traipse up the path behind him and soon come across a pair of agouti, a large rodent about the size of a marmot with short front legs.

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Onward, we came across an area where the quetzal had been seen earlier. Despite our efforts and those of other birders in the area, no quetzal was to be found (not that we would have known if we found it anyway). On we went to a large meadow with hummingbird feeders. There were dozens of hummingbirds fighting for a spot and several different varieties including a large violet one that apparently is the largest of the hummingbirds. The serious birders were off getting fleeting glimpses of a rare green bird that seemeed quite adept at moving as soon as it was spotted.

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Up the hill further and Jaimie started shining his flashlight in small holes in the bank looking for tarantulas. Eventually he found one and decided to lure it out with a thin stick. She eventually succumbed and made a rush out of her den much to the surprise of those watching. She was a good 6 inches across and had orange stripes.

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We carried on up the hill without spying anymore creatures and then turned around and headed back, checked on Ms. Tarantula again and got back to the field where the quetzel had been reported. Low and behold there was a group of 25 or so birders excitedly viewing the quetzel. It is a beautiful bird with a red breast and long turquoise tail feathers and we were very lucky to see it. The sighting was well documented by our group and we head back down, past a coatamundi and the motmot and back into town for the afternoon.

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Posted by Colenso 20:13 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

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